Monthly Archives: April 2013

A Coeliac* in Hong Kong

Challenging. It was definitely challenging. You couldn’t go to Hong Kong as a shy and conservative Coeliac. You have to go in there hard with your translation card and winning smile at the ready. I’ve already noted how rare a disease gluten-intolerance is in Asia (see A Coeliac in Singapore) so I had braced myself for some interesting encounters and conversations.

The translation card

The little scrap of paper with the crucial explanatory text in English and Mandarin was more important to me than my mangy old passport. This was the golden ticket to dinner. It explained what I could and couldn’t eat. I researched a few before I found one that was straightforward and tactful. Someone online had made their own which was quite alarmist. Something along the lines of: ‘Please don’t hurt me. Please have a detoxification shower before preparing my food. Please don’t hurt me. And by the way, I can’t eat wheat.’

The reactions

My favourite reaction was a wonderful waitress in a tiny side street diner who read through my translation card, smiled broadly and nodded and then said to me in English, ‘A-ha! You’re one of those! I’ve heard about you’. My niece and I had the best rice noodles with pork, scrambled eggs (with toast for my niece) and a cup of lemon tea for the grand sum of AUS$4. I wanted tea with milk but after re-reading my translation card the waitress decided that no, she would not risk it – tea with lemon or plain hot water. Who was I to argue!

(As an aside, my niece would continue to proclaim joyfully and randomly throughout our trip: ‘$4!!!’ I even received a text recently, weeks after our holiday, reminding me that it was sooooo great to have breakfast, with coffee/tea, for just $4. Particularly as she had just paid AUS$12 for two coffees in Melbourne!)

The production number – bring out the dancing girls!

Every time I whipped out my translation card I carefully watched the face of the reader. There was inevitably a frown, a twitching of the mouth, a polite retreat, a conversation with someone more authoritative, some discreet finger pointing and more frowning and shaking heads. These beautiful folks seemed anxious about feeding me something that would consequently make me sick and so were super cautious. Rarely would I get turned away – more often than not the chef would be dragged out to have a chat and three people would be gathered round discussing what on earth I could eat. Hence the need to be confident and expressive – otherwise, I wouldn’t have eaten anything in Hong Kong. And it was so very worth the production number. There was always one little dish I could eat that brought satisfaction to all involved, particularly me.

Helpful folks

I really wanted my niece to try dumplings. (She really wanted to try them too!) There was no conceivable way I was going to find anything to eat in this heavenly floury place but I noticed some rice noodles on the menu and thought I might be able to wrangle a soup. Well, this was the only place that really couldn’t seem to accommodate me, but not for lack of trying. Again, a plethora of people were dragged in to nut out some options. No, nothing. I was completely happy with that, no problem, please don’t bother, it’s all ok – my niece is happy. Not content with that, the waitress wandered over to a regular who was with a Western looking fellow and pointed at me, slightly distraught. He smiled and said hello to me across the crowded café and shouted gently ‘what seems to be the problem?’. No problem at all I said. I’m gluten intolerant, I thought I might get some rice noodle soup but no luck. He laughed good naturedly, ‘Lady, you are in the wrong place to eat!’. All good. The waitress continued to eye me sadly and shake her head now and then so I made a super effort to smile and laugh and not salivate impolitely and desperately over my niece’s heaped steaming plate of dumplings. I always carry a nut bar for such occasions.
Worth another visit? Hell, yes!

Hong Kong was a tricky but delicious place to eat. I scoffed lobster at Jumbo, had the most exquisite meal of my life at Amber (see Two girls and a two star Michelin restaurant), and still sigh fondly about that memorable $4 pork and noodle dish. I shunned all Western outlets (except for a brief fling with a Hard Rock Cafe in Macau) and tried as many local options as possible. It’s a little like Russian roulette with potential cross-contamination issues, but hell yes, I’d play again!


If you’re after some suggestions (ie. restaurant names/ addresses) please feel free to email me at 

*What is Coeliac disease?

In people with coeliac disease the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats), causing small bowel damage. The tiny, finger-like projections which line the bowel (villi) become inflamed and flattened. This is referred to as villous atrophy. The surface area of the bowel available for nutrient absorption is markedly reduced which can lead to various gastrointestinal and malabsorptive symptoms.

This extract has been sourced directly from the Coeliac Australia website (




Filed under celiac, coeliac, gluten intolerant, Hong Kong, Singapore, translation card

Casino! A ‘why/how to’ for solo travellers

The Venetian, Macau

Casinos. You either love them or hate them. On the one hand, yes, they can be depressing depositories of crass, desperate, lonely and dejected people. On the other hand – hear me out – they can be the epicentre of light-hearted fun, frivolity and even a little bit of magic. That’s right, magic.

One thing I can say for sure, casinos have often featured somewhere in my solo travels, and have often been, dare I say it, a beacon of (neon) light on a dark and lonely horizon. Especially on those evenings when you’ve done all the sightseeing you possibly could and suddenly you’re staring at the four walls of your downtown hotel and it’s only 7.30pm. Sure, there’s the theatre and the movies, and a glass of wine whilst reading a book in a quaint pub. Sure. I’ve certainly undertaken all of those activities on my own and thoroughly enjoyed them. Sure. Or …

… there’s the casino. On the one hand, you can sit quietly by a roulette wheel for hours without anyone really bothering you or asking you to order a drink or get out. Contented alone time but amongst real people and life. Just avoid eye contact and no one will try pick you up either. On the other hand the casino is also full of lots of friendly folk who are willing to chat and for a champion chatter like me, that’s a lovely bonus. Casual gamblers the world over like to compare notes, see how you’re faring, ask where you’re from and generally smile and are pleasant. (Note: serious gamblers do not.)

‘What else’, you ask? Well, you don’t actually have to gamble. Casinos always have free entertainment and cheap drinks. You can listen to a band, watch performers, enjoy magicians all while contentedly sipping $5 gin and tonics. Do you like dancing? There’s usually a free bar to do that in as well. The dance floor is usually packed – no one will notice that you’re bopping along on your own. Empty dance floor? Pretend you’re drunk and dance anyway!

There are, however, some pitfalls you should be aware of. Crowne Plaza Casino, Canberra for instance.

This casino (and I’ve been to quite a few!) unfortunately holds the honour of being possibly the most glum and tragic casino in the world. One big empty room with signs and information about entertainment but no actual entertainment. High minimum bets and burly, surly looking staff. If there had ever been any fun or magic in this casino it died a long time ago. In the dim lighting you could clearly see the silhouettes of slumped shoulders and hung heads. It’s possible no one had ever won anything in this casino. Ever. It had a funereal air and certainly had the capacity to suck the life out of any unfortunate person who accidently and blindingly stumbled inside it unwittingly.

Stay clear of those casinos. They will only make you feel more wretched and lonely/ homesick.

And there’s also a little thing I like to call ‘The Witching Hour’. At around 11pm, especially on a Friday or Saturday night, a group of tipsy 18 year old ‘men’ will somehow stumble past security and gaze around in awe. It’s usually a first or second visit and they swagger up to the roulette table with no clue whatsoever, nudge each other and say things like, ‘Oi, can you put something on the zero?’. They proceed to spill their drinks, bump into everyone at the table and generally make crass jokes and giggle like school girls. I have watched one of these witching hour heathens dig deep into his pockets and pull out about $8.50 worth of change and slam that onto the table proudly (next to the flurry of $100 bills). ‘Put it all on black!’, he cries with gusto. He is inevitably drily told that the outside bet is a $10 minimum at which point his kind friends rustle up a $2 coin and wait with baited breath as the wheel spins.


‘Ah, this game is shit!’. He just resists kicking the table and walks away disgusted.

Look, the witching hour kids can be entertaining in their own way. As long as you don’t get beer on your dress.

But back to the positives! Even if you’re not travelling solo, what a great way to spend some alone time even whilst with your companion! You’re in the same place, at the same time, you can still talk about the experience together, but you can, if you choose, just sit at the bar quietly having a drink on your own while they play Blackjack. A moment of peace and silence. Ahhhh…..

And casinos may even save you from natural disasters! In Singapore I was stuck in a resort while a torrential and frightening storm raged outside. Every room in this hotel, including shops, cafes, and bars, was floor to ceiling glass so that every flash of lightening struck me with the fear of God and imminent catastrophe. Except the casino. Comforting with its lack of any windows and reassuringly dim lighting, I peacefully and repeatedly played zero at the roulette wheel until all danger had passed and I was able to emerge an hour later in blissful calm and tranquillity.

Too much?

Ok, well visiting casinos on holidays is not everyone’s thing. I’m just saying – if you find yourself yawning before the sun has gone down and with an hour or two of evening time to fill, it’s there if you need it!

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Filed under casino, gambling, solo travel, travelling, travelling alone